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“Let No Man Despise Thy Youth” –Timothy 4:12

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As Scanlan talks about her youth, it becomes clear that she was one of those kids born with a disposition grievously maladapted to childhood: extremely sensitive, shy, self-scrutinizing, and uncomfortable around her peers. “You learn to make life bearable,” she says, when I ask about this time, “and then to make it enjoyable.” One of her favorite Bible verses comes from Timothy 4:12—16: “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.”

The pageant business began when Scanlan was 13, on her own initiative. It was the one project, she says, in which she couldn’t control the outcome: “With dance and piano, you know what level you’re at. With pageants, you could do your very best and still not know the outcome. It was not in my hands.” When the Miss Nebraska competition rolled around, she considered the event a trial run in preparation for the following year. Winning the pageant was a surprise, and she doesn’t take credit for it. “God shows that it’s not you, it’s Him, and obviously there was nothing that I did. The same thing happened with Miss America.”

Success strengthened her resolve. “I really feel like this is what I’m meant to do, and there’s a purpose and a reason to everything I do,” Scanlan says. The remark is punctuated with a smile. As with many public figures, Teresa’s smile is frequent and doesn’t seem to mean as much as when other people smile. When asked to elaborate on her political ideas, she eases into Palin-style verbal curlicues. “Honestly, sometimes it’s hard to find those that you completely admire in what they’re doing,” she says. “But there’s plenty. I admire really any women in politics, because it’s very difficult, and there’s a huge discrepancy between the number of women and men, and so it’s been great to see more women come up in those positions, and I think that’s great, that we’re moving toward that.”

Asking Scanlan about politics, it turns out, is like watching somebody fool around with a yo-yo: The game is not interactive; it’s vaguely frustrating and boring to watch, but you have to admire the skill involved. If most teenagers fling opinions around willy-nilly and with a minimum number of words, Scanlan’s facility runs along opposite lines. Her withholding is strategic, not airheaded. What issues interest her? I ask. “I’m sure it’ll change so much by the time I get there. Honestly, it’s pretty crazy to look back at history and see how the hot-button issues change drastically from decade to decade. Really, the time line I’m looking at is so far in the future I can’t honestly imagine what’s going to be on our plate at that time. You certainly hope that it’s going to be improved from now, that it will be better, but we’ll see. It’s gonna be a long way from now, so we’ll see what comes up and what there is.” She pauses, then adds, “Miss America is a nonpartisan position.”


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